The new rules of engagement

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Social media is very much a work in progress, which is why we wanted to see how b-to-b marketers are working the new medium into their online advertising. Much like a company's Web address became a standard element in b-to-b print ads more than a decade ago, we are beginning to see the icons for some of the social media platforms—such as Twitter and LinkedIn—routinely appear in the online executions, typically on landing pages. Back in the day, we encouraged b-to-be advertisers to not only mention their Web sites in print but to design the print ad to drive the audience to the site, where a company's offerings or brand story could be explained in much greater depth. The print piece served to warm the doorknob for the conversation that was about to begin. Social media have the capability of enriching the conversation and acting as a prelude to lucrative, long-term relationships with customers. If used right, the new medium can serve as a valuable point of engagement. At the very least, a social media touch point in a b-to-b ad—be it print, online or broadcast—demonstrates that your company is remaining relevant and credible in the fast-changing media environment. We were impressed with how Allstate Insurance Co. enhanced its brand through social media in an online ad designed to recruit entrepreneurs to become agent-owners. A row of social media icons is stripped across the bottom of the landing page. We counted seven icons, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as icons for some of Allstate's homegrown social media tools. We randomly clicked the YouTube icon and were taken to a page that featured a half-dozen Allstate videos, all of recent vintage. On the day of our visit, the lead video focused on an exhibit titled “Science Storms,” which Allstate was helping to sponsor at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. The caption beneath the two-minute video about the exhibit makes the point that Allstate helps people recover from the ravages of weather-related disasters. Other videos on the site describe the company's commitment to volunteerism and how it has helped protect customers in difficult economic times, such as the Great Depression. By demonstrating leadership through use of a social media tool, the company is more apt to make a positive impression on a person considering a career with the company. Our only nit is that the social media icons were relegated to the footnote territory of the landing page, running the risk that visitors might overlook them. As Allstate took the time to craft an attractive, well-branded site for its videos, it may want to find a more prominent touch point for it on its landing page. Relegating your best stuff to the footnotes is tantamount to hiding your light under a bushel. American Express Co. puts Twitter to good use on the landing page for its small-business audience. Visitors are drawn to the page with a banner that invites them to learn about the eight Google marketplace apps that every small business should know about. Toward the bottom of the landing page, American Express trots out a row of social media icons, including Twitter. But it also includes a Twitter logo in the left navigation column in a shaded box that says “OPEN Forum Pulse harnesses the power of Twitter for small business.” American Express makes sure that visitors to its page check out Twitter because it's there so that its customers and prospects can swap stories of their entrepreneurial challenges. Community-building, not just brand-building, is one of social media's most valuable benefits, and American Express demonstrates that it understands how to make the most of this tool. Finally, AT&T Small Business connects with its audience of entrepreneurs by inviting them—at the bottom of one of its landing pages—to join the telecom giant on Facebook. The site's wall features an engaging mix of tips on how to run a small business, customer comments and quick polls. There is a strong sense of dialogue on AT&T's Facebook page, which gets to the heart of what social media is all about. M
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